Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the international threshold of “most serious crimes.” Media and human rights groups also documented numerous suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.
Following the January protests, according to a Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) report, at least two detainees died in detention–Sina Ghanbari in Evin Prison, and Vahid Heydari in the 12th Police Station in Arak. According to the report, the bodies of the detainees were quickly buried without an investigation or autopsy, and officials claimed the deaths were suicides. Witnesses reportedly saw evidence of a severe blow to Heydari’s skull, as though struck by an axe. The government made few attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during torture or other physical abuse, after denying detainees medical treatment, or during public demonstrations. In August Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported at least 30 persons had been killed in protests since January. HRW reported there was no indication that officials conducted impartial investigations into those deaths or, more broadly, into law enforcement officials’ use of excessive force to repress protests.
As noted by the late UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Asma Jahangir, and documented by international human rights observers, Revolutionary Courts continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences in the country, and trials lacked due process. Legal representation was denied during the investigation phase, and in most cases, no evidence other than confessions, often reportedly extracted through torture, was considered. Judges may also impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. According to the NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government does not disclose accurate numbers of those executed during a year, and as many as 60 percent of executions are kept secret.
The NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) reported there were 215 executions as of mid-November, while the government officially announced only 73 executions in that time period. For many of those executions, the government did not release further information, such as names, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.
The Islamic penal code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of majority. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced as minors as well as individuals accused of committing offenses that do not meet the international legal standard of “most serious crimes.” According to the former UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, 85 juvenile offenders were on death row as of June. The government executed at least five juvenile offenders during the year, including Abolfazi Chezani Sharahi, who was executed in June. Sharahi was arrested in 2013 at age 14 and sentenced to death for allegedly stabbing his friend. A CHRI report noted serious concerns with the handling of Sharahi’s case.
According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes. Prisoners are slowly lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. In addition, adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities have reportedly been ordered not to provide public information about stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.
Authorities continued to carry out executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes.” Although the majority of executions were reportedly for murder during the year, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.”
Prosecutors frequently used “waging war against God” as a capital offense against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.” The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences.
The overall number of executions decreased in comparison with 2017, reportedly as a result of an amendment passed in August 2017 by parliament to the 1997 Law to Combat Drugs to raise the threshold for the death penalty for drug-related offenses. The law went into effect in November 2017. Under the amended law, capital punishment applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. According to the previous law, capital punishment applied to similar offenses involving slightly more than 11 pounds of natural drugs or two-thirds of a pound of manufactured drugs. Capital punishment, however, still applies to drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics, if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or someone who has previously been convicted of drug crimes and given a prison sentence of more than 15 years.
In January Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani ordered judges to halt the death sentences of drug offenders potentially affected by this change to the law while their cases were reviewed. In July state media quoted Tehran’s Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi announcing that of the 3,000 requests the government had received from death-row prisoners and from those sentenced to life imprisonment, 1,700 sentences had been reviewed and most of those sentences had been reduced, while 1,300 cases remained to be reviewed.
Mohammad Salas, a Gonabadi Sufi bus driver, was executed by hanging at Rajai Shahr Prison on June 18. Salas was convicted of killing three police officers during clashes between members of the Gonabadi Sufi dervishes and security forces in Tehran in February. Salas and his supporters maintained his innocence throughout a trial that Amnesty International called “grossly unfair,” stating he had been tortured into a forced confession and that key defense witnesses who could have testified that Salas was already in custody at the time of the police officers’ deaths were dismissed.
International and national media reported on a terrorist attack on a military parade in Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan Province, on September 22. According to reports, at least 29 military personnel and civilians were killed in the attack, with more than 70 wounded. A separatist group called the Ahwaz National Resistance, as well as the Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attack.
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In March NGO PEN International reported the enforced disappearance of poet Mohammad Bamm following his arrest by security forces in December 2017. According to the report, Bamm was released on March 19 after being held in solitary confinement and allegedly tortured in Ahwaz Prison while his whereabouts were unknown. He was accused of causing harm to public order and security, participating in the leadership of illegal demonstrations, and insulting the supreme leader.
Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.
Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced tests of virginity and “sodomy,” sleep deprivation, electroshock, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings. Former UNSR Jahangir highlighted reports of prisoners subjected to physical abuse, as well as to blackmail.
Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran and Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
In September the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported the case of at least seven detainees subjected to torture by the IRGC’s Saravan Intelligence Unit. Saravan, located in Sistan va Baluchestan Province, is home to the Baloch ethnic minority community. According to the report, the prisoners were religious seminary students who were lashed with electrical wires and shocked with electricity, causing them to be unable to walk. IRGC-run detention centers reportedly used a technique called the “miracle bed,” which includes tying detainees to a bed frame and repeatedly flogging and electrocuting them until they “confess.”
NGOs reported that prison guards tortured Sunni Muslim prisoners at Ardabil Prison for their religious beliefs; numerous inmates at the prison were Sunni Muslims, while the guards were predominantly Shia. Guards also reportedly retaliated against prisoners there for “security issues” that occurred elsewhere in the country. According to reports, torture at Ardabil included severe beatings, being tied to flag poles for prolonged durations of time, and being forced to watch executions of fellow prisoners.
Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system where abuse reportedly occurred.
Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment,” not torture. At least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 can carry the penalty of amputation.
In January Amnesty International reported that authorities amputated the hand of a man sentenced for stealing livestock. The amputation by guillotine, which Amnesty characterized as “unspeakably cruel,” took place at the central prison in Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan Province.
In July Amnesty International reported the public flogging of a man in Niazmand Square, Kashmar, Razavi Khorasan Province, for a sentence he had received 10 years before for consuming alcohol at a wedding when he was 14-15 years old. National media outlets posted a picture showing the man roped to a tree, lashed by a masked man and his back covered in blood, with a crowd of persons watching.
Extrajudicial punishments by authorities involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year. For example, Maedeh Hojabri was arrested for posting videos of herself dancing on social media, and authorities compelled her to confess to this “crime” on state television.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in prisons with many prisoners forced to sleep on floors, in hallways, or in prison yards. The human rights NGO United for Iran, which closely monitored prison conditions, reported in 2017 that the prisoner population was three times the capacity of the country’s prisons and detention centers. State-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that the head of the general court of Ardabil said the number of prisoners in Ardabil Prison was at three times its capacity.
There were reported deaths in custody. In March HRW reported at least five deaths in custody since December 2017. The government ruled three of the deaths–of Sina Ghanbari, Vahid Heydari, and Kavous Seyed-Emami, a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmentalist–to be suicides, claims the deceased’s family members and human rights groups strongly contested (see section 1.d.).
According to IranWire and human rights groups, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.
Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illnesses due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities also used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners and as an intimidation tool against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged the authorities. In March CHRI reported that dozens of political prisoners were denied medical treatment and leave despite visible symptoms of their deteriorating health. The report mentioned specifically the cases of Vahed Kholousi, an education rights activist held in Rajai Shahr Prison since 2015; Alireza Golipour, held in Evin Prison since 2012 and suffering from worsening seizures and heart problems; and Mohammad Saber Malek-Raeisi, a Baluchi Sunni Muslim reportedly in critical condition from repeated severe beatings by guards in Ardabil Prison.
Medical services for female prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate. Human rights groups highlighted the case of children’s rights activist Atena Daemi, serving a seven-year sentence for meeting with the families of political prisoners, criticizing the government on Facebook, and condemning the 1988 mass executions of prisoners in the country. In January Daemi was beaten and transferred from Evin Prison to Shahr-e Rey Prison (also known as Gharchak prison) in the city of Varamin, south of Tehran, which held 1,000 female prisoners in cramped, unsanitary conditions. Human rights organizations reported that prison authorities refused to allow Daemi and other prisoners access to necessary medical care.
According to Amnesty International, at least 10 Gonabadi Sufi dervish women were unjustly detained in Shahr-e Rey Prison since February. The women were routinely denied urgently needed medical care and kept in unsanitary, inhuman conditions. The report noted that prison doctors verbally abused the women and guards physically mistreated them.
The human rights community and international media reported on frequent water shortages, intolerable heat, unsanitary living spaces, and poor ventilation in prisons throughout the country.
UNSR Jahangir and others condemned the inhuman, life-threatening conditions of Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj following the hunger strike of numerous political prisoners that began at the end of July 2017. Prisoners had protested the sudden transfer of more than 50 political prisoners, including at least 15 Bahais, whom authorities moved without notice from Ward 12 to the prison’s high security Ward 10.
Authorities reportedly deprived prisoners of medicine, adequate medical treatment, and personal belongings, and sealed prisoners’ cells with iron sheets that limited air circulation. Jahangir expressed deep alarm at the deteriorating medical conditions of the political prisoners and at reports of their continued torture following the transfer. In March CHRI reported that political prisoners at the prison continued to be subjected to inhuman living conditions as punishment for their hunger strike.
Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Also, according to HRANA, juvenile detainees were held with adult prisoners in some prisons, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. Authorities held women separately from men.
In 2017 Mohammad Javad Fathi, a member of parliament’s judicial committee, was quoted in media saying that 2,300 children lived in prisons with their incarcerated mothers. Fathi urged the Prisons Organization to provide transparent statistics on the number of imprisoned mothers. IranWire reported that multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities.
There were numerous reports of prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. In August HRANA reported on the suicide attempts of five prisoners on the same day at Sanandaj Central Prison. The five prisoners tried to kill themselves either by taking pills or hanging, all reportedly in response to prison conditions and the mistreatment of the prisoners and their family members by officials. In April HRANA reported that Vahid Safarzehi, held in the Central Prison of Zahedan, ingested a razor to commit suicide after his repeated requests for furlough to accompany his sick mother to the hospital were denied. He had previously attempted suicide by drinking acid.
In August CHRI shared the report of a journalist who had been detained in the Great Tehran Penitentiary, the largest detention facility. The journalist recounted the inhuman conditions of the prison as beyond the limits of human tolerance. According to the journalist, dozens of new prisoners were admitted to the prison a day and initially kept for days in a “sewer”-like quarantine unit without ventilation or washing facilities. More than 80 percent of the prisoners in quarantine were reportedly homeless drug addicts requiring immediate medical attention; they could hardly stand, and their vomit covered the floor.
Prisoner hunger strikes occurred frequently in prisons throughout the country, and reports on prisons’ inhuman conditions continued. These included infestations with cockroaches and mice, chronic overcrowding, poor ventilation, prisoners being forced to sleep on the floor with little bedding, and insufficient food and water.
The political prisoner Vahid Sayyadi-Nasiri died on December 12 after being on hunger strike since October 13. Sayyadi-Nasiri went on hunger strike to protest inhumane prison conditions at Iran’s Langroud Prison in Qom and government authorities’ denial of his right to counsel.
Administration: According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to visitors, telephone, and other correspondence privileges. As noted above, prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination while incarcerated.
Authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution in the form of slander, beatings, torture, and denial of medication or furlough requests. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often on very short notice. Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or families’ request for the findings from an impartial autopsy.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. UNSR Jahangir reported that authorities sometimes threatened prisoners after accusing them of contacting her office.
For more information on treatment of political prisoners, see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees.
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. President Rouhani’s 2016 “Citizen’s Rights Charter” enumerates various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security and the like.” The government did not implement these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, which report to the president, and the IRGC, which reports directly to the supreme leader. The supreme leader holds ultimate authority over all security agencies.
The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in repression of political opposition elements or intimidation of civilians accused of violating the country’s strict moral code, without formal guidance or supervision from superiors.
Impunity remained a problem within all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and participants in public demonstrations. According to Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers. In a notable exception, in November 2017 authorities sentenced former Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi to two years in prison for his alleged responsibility for the torture and death of protesters in 2009. Media reported that Mortazavi, after initial reports that he had disappeared, was taken to prison in April to commence his sentence.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for days, weeks, or months without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.
The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases, courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their families’ property.
The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. At year’s end former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest imposed in 2011 without formal charges. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. Concerns persisted over Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices, arrested persons, conducted raids, and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.
Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days. Authorities often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel during this period.
International media and human rights organizations documented an increase in detentions of dual nationals–individuals who are citizens of both Iran and another country–for arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. One of the environmentalists detained, Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody in February in Evin Prison, in what authorities called a suicide (see section 1.c.). Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves.
In September, Human Rights Watch documented the cases of 14 dual or foreign nationals whom the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization has arrested since 2014. Several of those were American citizens, including Xiyue Wang, a doctoral student at Princeton University, who was arrested in August 2016. Wang had been conducting research for his dissertation on the history of the Qajar dynasty. In July 2017, Iranian state media reported that a Revolutionary Court had sentenced Wang to 10 years in prison on charges of “cooperating with an enemy state.” Revolutionary Court Judge Abolqasem Salavati presided over the case. In August 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Wang’s detention was arbitrary and “motivated by the fact that he is a United States citizen,” and recommended the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Wang immediately.
Spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of the spiritual doctrine Interuniversalism and the Erfan-e Halgheh group, had been in prison–mostly in solitary confinement–since his arrest in 2011. He was sentenced to five years in 2011 for “insulting the sanctities” and then was sentenced to death in 2015 for “corruption on earth.” In August 2017 Taheri was sentenced to death for a second time. The Supreme Court subsequently rejected Taheri’s death sentence and ordered him retried. At year’s end Taheri was serving a second five-year prison sentence handed down in March. According to media and NGO reports, the IRGC also detained dozens of Taheri’s followers.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of national security law. In other cases authorities held persons incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year involving numerous prisoners of conscience, particularly following the countrywide protests beginning in December 2017. According to HRW, a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.
According to HRW, since January the IRGC’s intelligence organization had arbitrarily arrested at least 50 environmental activists across the country and imprisoned them without bringing formal charges or evidence. These included several environmentalists affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation who were arrested in January for espionage. They were accused of using environmental projects as a cover to collect classified information. In July family members of Houman Jokar, Sepideh Kashani, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Sam Rajabi, Taher Ghadirian, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, and Morad Tahbaz demanded their release in a published open letter, saying the environmentalists had been imprisoned for six months without a “shred of evidence.”
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees may appeal their sentences in courts of law but are not entitled to compensation for detention and were often held for extended periods without any legal proceedings.
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”
The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.
According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were not upheld.
Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. For journalists and defendants charged with crimes against national security, the law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list.
When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advised judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge.”
The constitution does not provide for the establishment or the mandate of the Revolutionary Courts. The courts were created pursuant to the former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict immediately following the 1979 revolution, with a sharia judge appointed as the head of the courts. They were intended as a temporary emergency measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy and purge threats to the regime. The courts, however, became institutionalized and continue to operate in parallel to the criminal justice system. Human rights groups and international observers often identify the Revolutionary Courts, which are generally responsible for hearing the cases of political prisoners, as routinely employing grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubberstamping executions for political purposes. These unfair practices reportedly occur during all stages of criminal proceedings in Revolutionary Courts, including the initial prosecution and pretrial investigation, first instance trial, and review by higher courts.
The IRGC and Intelligence Ministry reportedly determine many aspects of Revolutionary Court cases. Most of the important political cases are referred to a handful of branches of the Revolutionary Courts, whose judges often have negligent legal training and are not independent.
During the year human rights groups and international media noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials. On September 8, three Kurdish men–Zaniar Moradi, Loghman Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi–were executed at Rajai Shahr Prison following what Amnesty International called “grossly unfair” trials in which the men were denied access to lawyers.
Courts admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. UNSR Jahangir stated that the government relied on physical and mental torture to coerce confessions from prisoners during pretrial detention and interrogations. Based on reports from numerous media and human rights groups, there was a noticeable increase during the year in the authorities’ use of torture, as well as forced videotaped confessions that the government later televised. A forced confession of a teenage girl, Maedeh Hojabri, was shown on state television on July 7, in which the girl confessed to the “crime” of posting a video of herself dancing on Instagram.
The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. As with the Revolutionary Courts, the constitution does not provide for the Special Clerical Court, which operated outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts were used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.
In March Ayatollah Hossein Shirazi, son of Grand Ayatollah Sadeq Shirazi, was arrested in Qom for criticizing “governance by the jurist,” the foundational principle underpinning the supreme leader’s power, and calling the supreme leader “the pharaoh” during a lecture. The Special Clerical Court initially heard Shirazi’s case and, according to reports in the media, sentenced him to 120 years in prison. Following the eruption of protests inside the country and among Shia communities outside the country, the court reportedly withdrew the sentence and released Shirazi on bail.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Official statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. According to United for Iran, on average there were an estimated 800-900 prisoners of conscience held in the country at any given time during the year, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “waging war against God,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.
The political crimes law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. The court and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.
The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. They should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.
Many of the law’s provisions have not been implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention and often were mixed with the general prison population. The government often placed political prisoners in prisons far from their families, denied them correspondence rights, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods. Human rights activists and international media also reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, and with criminals carrying contagious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. Former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks were more likely.
The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with real or alleged terrorist groups.
The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their occupations for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on some. During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity would result in their return to prison. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.
A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced prominent human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi, arrested in 2016, to 16 years in prison. The court charged Mohammadi with “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty organization, allegedly harming national security. Prison authorities granted Mohammadi limited medical attention for significant health problems during the year but continued to deny her family visitation and telephone calls, according to media reports. The government repeatedly rejected Mohammadi’s request for judicial review.
Seven Bahai leaders were arrested in 2008, convicted of “disturbing national security,” “spreading propaganda against the regime,” as well as “engaging in espionage,” and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Their sentences were subsequently reduced to 10 years. The last individual member of the group in prison, Afif Naeimi, was released on December 20.
Lawyers who defended political prisoners were often arrested. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group. As of September the government had arrested at least eight prominent human rights attorneys during the year.
Authorities arrested human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh on June 13 on national security charges, claiming she had been issued a five-year prison sentence in absentia for representing political prisoners and women who protested against the country’s compulsory hijab law. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and sentenced to a six-year prison term for her human rights work representing activists and journalists, until receiving a pardon in 2013.
International human rights organizations reported the arrest of several other human rights lawyers during the year because of their work. On August 31, government agents arrested Payam Derafshan and Farrokh Forouzan. Earlier in the year, Arash Keykhosravi and Ghasem Sholeh Saadi were also unjustly detained. Zaynab Taheri was arrested on June 19 after publicly advocating for her client, Mohammad Salas (see section 1.a.).
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to bring lawsuits through the courts against the government for civil or human rights violations.
The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes and offices, monitored telephone conversations and internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization. The government also detained the family members of activists as a form of intimidation and reprisal.
According to international human rights organizations, the government arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members based in Iran. Separately, the government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television.
Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, was arrested in September for publicly expressing his support for his detained wife, according to media reports.
Syria: Iran recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters to support the Assad regime and thus prolonging the civil war, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians. According to HRW, the IRGC since 2013 allegedly recruited thousands of undocumented Afghans living in Iran to fight in Syria, threatening forced deportation in some cases.
Child Soldiers: In an October 2017 report, HRW asserted that the IRGC had recruited Afghan children as young as age 14 to serve in the Fatemiyoun Brigade, reportedly an Iranian-supported Afghan group fighting alongside government forces in Syria, and noted that at least 14 Afghan children had been killed fighting in the Syrian conflict. Another HRW report in November 2017 documented an interview by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) agency with a 13-year-old Afghan boy from Iran, conducted in the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal. During the interview the boy called himself a “defender of the shrine” and expressed his desire to fight in Syria.
Iraq: Iran directly supported certain Iraqi Shia militias, including designated foreign terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which reportedly was complicit in summary executions and other human rights abuses of civilians in Iraq.
Yemen: Since 2015 Iran provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. Also, according to a Bahai International Community report in April, Iranian authorities were directing authorities in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to harass and detain Bahais because of their religious affiliation.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”
Article 26 of the 2016 Charter on Citizens’ Rights acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right freely to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication, but it has not been implemented.
The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into compliance with the government’s moral code.
Freedom of Expression: Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament.
The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and of insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.
Press and Media Freedom: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or it did not renew them for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”
Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through IRIB, a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,100). Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.
Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.
Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.
Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported that the government arrested an estimated 10 citizen-journalists for covering the nationwide protests that began in December 2017. According to RSF, several citizen journalists were beaten and arrested while recording renewed protests in Tehran on June 25-26. Authorities banned national and international media outlets from covering the demonstrations in an attempt to censor coverage of the protests and to intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them.
In February, RSF reported that several employees of the Sufi news website Majzooban Nor were arrested while covering clashes between security forces and Gonabadi Dervishes. Majzooban Nor was the only independent website covering the dervishes, and most of the arrested journalists were reportedly severely beaten by police and militia members. In July and August, Majzooban Norjournalists were sentenced for lashes and prison terms of up to 26 years in connection for their work covering the dervishes’ protests.
According to CHRI, in August the Mizan News Agency, which functions as the official news website of the judiciary, published statements that human rights activists interpreted as a call for vigilante violence against BBC journalists and their families. The BBC had filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Council in March against Iranian authorities for their campaign of harassment against BBC Persian staff.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.
In September media reported that General Prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered the closure of Sedayeh Eslahat, a reformist newspaper, on charges of insulting Shia Islam. According to reports, the newspaper had published an article on female-to-male sex reassignment surgery, titling the article, “Ruqayyah became Mahdi after 22 years.” Ruqayyah was the daughter of Hussein, a revered Shia Imam, while Mahdi, according to Shia beliefs, is the name of the 12th Shia Imam. Montazeri also called for the punishment of the newspaper’s editor.
Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. IRNA determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter, but not overthrow, the government are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government, in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.
The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The Supreme Leader’s Office also includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, and Minister of Information and Communications Technology Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools is illegal.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the Intelligence Ministry, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material.
According to media reports, former minister of information and communications technology Mahmoud Vaezi announced in 2017 that the government had improved methods to control the internet and had shut down a number of online platforms. The government’s decade-long project to build a National Information Network (NIN) resulted in its launch in 2016. The NIN enabled officials to allow higher speed and easier access on domestic traffic, while limiting international internet traffic. RSF reported that the NIN acted like an intranet system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities may disconnect this network from global internet content, and they reportedly intended to use it to provide government propaganda and disrupt circumvention tools. During nationwide protests in December 2017, authorities used NIN technology to cut off access to the global internet for 30 minutes.
Authorities continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and other government-associated officials and entities.
Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems.
According to a report by CHRI, in May the Judiciary (the prosecutor of Branch 2 of the Culture and Media Prosecutor’s Office in Tehran) blocked the popular messaging app Telegram. Telegram, used by approximately half the population as a platform for a wide variety of personal, political, business, and cultural content, had become a primary internet platform. As a foreign-owned company with servers outside the country, Telegram was not under the control of national censors. Many officials blamed Telegram for the spread of protests in December 2017. After the ban on Telegram, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology began to disrupt access to circumvention tools used to access blocked applications or sites.
RSF reported that several bloggers and online journalists were arrested during the year for their expression. Blogger Hengameh Shahidi was arrested in May for tweets about her previous detention. Mohammad Hossien Hidari, the editor of the Dolat e Bahar news website, was arrested in May. His families and lawyers did not know what he had been charged with, and his website was inaccessible after his arrest. Amir Hossein Miresmaili, a journalist with the daily newspaper Jahan Sanat (Industry World), was sentenced to 10 years in prison on August 22 for a tweet criticizing a mullah in Mashhad. Miresmaili’s sentence also included a two-year ban on journalistic activity on social networks after his release from prison. According to his lawyer, Miresmaili was charged with “insulting the sacredness of Islam,” “insulting government agents and officials,” “publishing false information designed to upset public opinion,” and “publishing immoral articles contrary to public decency.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.
According to a July HRW report, following the protests of December 2017 and January 2018, intelligence officers arrested at least 150 students and courts sentenced 17 to prison terms. Many of the arrested students did not participate in the protests but were preemptively detained, according to reports. HRW reported that as of mid-July, revolutionary courts had sentenced at least eight student protesters from universities in Tehran and Tabriz to prison sentences of up to eight years. Some students were banned from membership in political parties or participating in media, including social media, for two years.
Authorities barred Bahai students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Bahai Institute for Higher Education. According to a HRANA report in September, more than 50 Bahai college applicants had been denied enrollment for their religious affiliation (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).
The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.
According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.
According to media reports, renowned film director Jafar Panahi was banned again from traveling to the 2018 Cannes film festival. Panahi has been barred from traveling since 2010, when he was charged with generating “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.
According to media reports in February, Benyamin Bahadori, a pop singer and composer, cancelled a concert in Kerman after female members of his music group were banned from appearing on stage. In April, according to media reports, the head of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Mashhad was arrested for undermining public decency and disrespecting laws when videos surfaced on social media networks showing young men and women dancing at a concert at a shopping center in the city.
The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” In order to prevent activities it considered antiregime, the government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings such as public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings.
According to activists, the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty, while groups viewed as critical of the regime experienced harassment regardless of whether authorities issued a permit.
The government cracked down on small protests that began in the city of Mashhad in December 2017 and continued into 2018. These protests subsequently spread across the country and included broader economic and political grievances with the nation’s leadership. International media and human rights organizations widely covered the government’s crackdown on protests. According to media reports, at least 20 protesters were killed as of January, and thousands more were arrested throughout the year. Official government sources cited 4,970 arrested, 90 percent of whom were younger than 25 years old. Over the year, as protests arose across the country among various groups and by individuals expressing diverse grievances and demands, actions by security forces resulted in hundreds of additional arrests and further alleged deaths.
CHRI reported that authorities denied detainees access to attorneys and threatened them with charges that carried the death penalty if they sought counsel. There were multiple reports of detainees beaten while in custody. Several human rights organizations, including CHRI, reported that detainees were given pills of unknown substance, including methadone, to portray them as drug addicts. According to CHRI, at least two detainees died under suspicious circumstances while in detention, while the death of a third detainee was labeled a “suicide” (see section 1.a.).
In February security forces violently cracked down on a group of Gonabadi Sufi dervishes in Tehran who were protesting to demand the release of a 70-year-old fellow Sufi, Nematollah Riahi, who protesters believed was unjustly detained because of his religious affiliation. According to CHRI and reports from Sufi news sites, at least 300 hundred Gonabadi Sufis were arrested and imprisoned in the Great Tehran Penitentiary and Qarchak Prison, with numerous deaths reported at the hands of security forces. Reports indicated that the government’s crackdown continued in various cities throughout the country and that Sufis were subjected to torture and forced confessions in detention centers prior to their transfer to prisons.
According to an August HRW report, revolutionary courts sentenced at least 208 Gonabadi Sufi dervishes, from the hundreds detained, in unfair trials to prison terms ranging from four months to 26 years, flogging, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups. Authorities did not allow the defendants to choose their legal representation and repeatedly insulted and questioned their faith during trials that lasted as little as 15 minutes. More than 40 dervishes received sentences in absentia.
In August Great Tehran Penitentiary authorities conducted a “brutal” attack, according to CHRI, on Gonabadi Sufis prisoners who were peacefully protesting the harsh treatment of female Gonabadi Sufi prisoners at Qarchak Prison. According to the report, several detainees were badly injured and suffered broken bones, while female prisoners in Qarchak Prison were reportedly subjected to torture and beatings by prison officials.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional and political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria, or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited the freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members.
The government barred teachers from commemorating International Labor Day and Teachers’ Day. Several prominent teachers and union activists either remained in prison or were awaiting new sentences, including Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi and Esmail Abdi (see section 7.a.).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions, particularly concerning migrants and women. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with regard to refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.
In-country Movement: Judicial sentences sometimes included internal exile after release from prison, which prevented individuals from traveling to certain provinces. Women often required the supervision of a male guardian or chaperone to travel and faced official and societal harassment for traveling alone.
Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for foreign travel for all citizens. Citizens who were educated at government expense or received scholarships had to either repay the scholarship or receive a temporary permit to exit the country. The government restricted the foreign travel of some religious leaders, members of religious minorities, and scientists in sensitive fields.
Several journalists, academics, opposition politicians, human and women’s rights activists, and artists remained subject to foreign travel bans and had their passports confiscated during the year. Married women were not allowed to travel outside the country without prior permission from their husbands.
Exile: The law does not provide for forced exile abroad. Many citizens practiced self-imposed exile to express their beliefs freely or escape government harassment.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
According to UNHCR, the government had granted registration to 950,142 Afghan and 28,268 Iraqi refugees under a system known as amayesh, through which authorities provide refugees with cards identifying them as legally registered refugees. The cards enable refugees to access basic services and facilitate the issuance of work permits. In addition to registered refugees, the government estimated it hosted 450,000 Afghans who hold Afghan passports and Iranian visas and 1.5 million undocumented Afghans.
HRW and other groups reported that the government continued its mistreatment of many Afghans, including physical abuse by security forces, deportations, forced recruitment to fight in Syria (see section 1.g.), detention in unsanitary and inhuman conditions, forced payment for transportation to and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, forced separation from families, restricted movement within the country, and restricted access to education or jobs.
Refoulement: According to activist groups and NGOs, authorities routinely arrested Afghans without amayesh cards and sometimes threatened them with deportation. According to the International Organization for Migration, from the beginning of the year to August, more than 219,254 undocumented Afghans returned to Afghanistan, with many claiming they were pressured to leave. In addition more than 273,089 were deported there throughout the year.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to qualified applicants. While the government reportedly has a system for providing protection to refugees, UNHCR did not have information regarding how the country made asylum determinations. According to HRW, the government continued to block many Afghans from registering to obtain refugee status.
Afghans not registered under the amayesh system who had migrated in the past decades of conflict in their home country continued to be denied access to an asylum system or access to register with the United Nations as refugees. NGOs reported many of these displaced asylum seekers believed they were pressured to leave the country but could not return to Afghanistan because of the security situation in their home provinces.
Freedom of Movement: Refugees faced restrictions on in-country movement and faced restrictions from entering certain provinces, according to UNHCR.
Employment: Only refugees with government-issued work permits were able to work. NGO sources reported that amayesh cards were difficult to renew and were often prohibitively expensive for refugees to maintain due to steep annual renewal fees.
Access to Basic Services: Amayesh cardholders had access to primary education and received primary health care, including vaccinations, prenatal care, maternal and child health, and family planning from the Ministry of Health. They also benefited from a universal basic health insurance package for hospitalization and paraclinical services (medicine, doctor’s visits, radiology, etc.) similar to citizens, and those with qualifying “special diseases” received comprehensive coverage.
In 2017 more than 112,000 vulnerable refugees enrolled in the Universal Public Health Insurance scheme providing coverage for 12 months, and in 2018 92,000 vulnerable refugees were expected to benefit from subsidized premium support from UNHCR.
The government claimed to grant refugees access to schools. More than 420,000 refugee children were enrolled in primary and secondary school, out of whom 103,000 were undocumented Afghan children. According to media reporting, however, Afghans continued to have difficulty gaining access to education. The government sometimes imposed fees for children of registered refugees to attend public schools.
There were barriers to marriage between citizens and displaced Afghans. Authorities required Afghans to obtain documentation from their embassy or government offices in Afghanistan to register their marriage in the country, according to media reporting. The law states, “Any foreigner who marries an Iranian woman without the permission of the Iranian government will be sentenced to two to five years in prison plus a cash penalty.” Furthermore, authorities considered children born from such unions eligible for citizenship only if the child’s father is a citizen and registers the child as his, potentially leaving many children stateless.
Most provinces’ residency limitations on refugees effectively denied them access to public services, such as public housing, in the restricted areas of those provinces.
There were no accurate numbers on how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons included those without birth documents or refugee identification cards. They were subjected to inconsistent government policies and relied on charities, principally domestic, to obtain medical care and schooling. Authorities prohibited stateless persons from receiving formal government support or travel documents.
Women may not directly transmit citizenship to their children or to noncitizen spouses. Only children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers who reside in Iran for 18 years and whose parents’ marriage is officially registered with the government are eligible to apply for citizenship. According to media reports, between 400,000 and one million persons lacked Iranian nationality despite having an Iranian citizen mother, due to limitations on citizenship transmission (see section 6, Children).